The Second Appellate District Court reversed an order, in favor of the mother, that would have sent two children to Family Bridge’s 90-day reunification program last January.
The mother appealed a Los Angeles family court order modifying the parenting plan between her and her former husband concerning their two minor children.
“We agree the court abused its discretion and reverse the order,” the Second Circuit ruled.
The mother contended the family court abused its discretion in ordering the children to participate with the father in a therapy program through Family Bridges which mandated no contact with the mother for a minimum of 90 days.
Family Bridges is an organization that offers controversial reunification therapy to help “alienated children.”
Ally Toyos, with the Center for Judicial Excellence, said her experience with Family Bridges was traumatic, according to previous reporting.
The Second Circuit ruled that Judge Steven Ellis erred by failing to apply the changed circumstance rule, in other words, the father did not show a significant change in circumstances that warranted the children being removed from their mother’s custody to participate in the Family Bridges program.
“Nothing in the record supports the court’s finding that this significant disruption to the children’s established living arrangement with mother was in their best interest,” the Court wrote.
After divorcing in 2012, the mother obtained a domestic violence restraining order against the father in 2015 and was allowed to relocate with the children to Canada.
The mother was subsequently allowed to relocate with the children to New York when both parents sought modifications to the parenting plan.
Dr. Stan Katz, appointed to conduct child custody evaluations, testified he felt additional monitored visitation with the father in New York was warranted and that the family would also benefit from a parenting coach.
Katz told the court he was familiar with and approved of a program run by Rebecca Bailey.
Dr. Katz was not in favor of more restrictive programs like Family Bridges unless “nothing else worked” to help rebuild a child’s relationship with an alienated parent. He did not think such a program was necessary.
Jayne Roberman, who was appointed to provide reunification therapy for the family, believed both children were resistant to spending time with their father, and that a team approach was warranted. She told the court “the family needs a more intensive, family-focused therapy to include relationships the children have with both parents, addressing effective means for the parents to resolve conflict and more effectively communicate.”
Judge Gould-Saltman ordered that the father was allowed to have a week of vacation time with his children in Los Angeles and was permitted to enroll himself and the children in “a program such as Family Bridges or Turning Point.”
If he chose to do so, the father was entitled to have “the children during the week-long program” and his one week of summer vacation time with them in Los Angeles.
Judge Steven Ellis prevented the mother from offering evidence relevant to the propriety of ordering the children to participate in a 90-day Family Bridges program during which they would be deprived of all contact with the mother.
Once a final custody determination has been made, “the paramount need for continuity and stability in custody arrangements—and the harm that may result from disruption of established patterns of care and emotional bonds with the primary caretaker—weigh heavily in favor of maintaining ongoing custody arrangements, according to the Court.
“Without evidence that it is in the best interest of the children to remove them from mother’s custody for at least 90 days to participate in the Family Bridges program, the court abused its discretion,” the court ruled.